Libya’s ‘unexpected strength’

Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

Libya remains in deep chaos. Various militias are competing for political and economic power, carrying out attacks and otherwise buffeting the fragile government, say two leading experts.

Work on a new Constitution has only recently started, well over a year later than envisioned in the political blueprint that was drawn up as the civil war ended in October 2011, Dartmouth College’s Dirk Vandewalle and researcher Nicholas Jahr write for The New York Times:

This is a shame because, despite severe security issues and other debilitating weaknesses, Libya these days has one unexpected strength: Most of its people agree on major issues that are often hopelessly divisive, like minority rights, Islam and federalism.

Polling by the University of Benghazi early last year suggested that a solid 55 percent of the population favored granting some form of recognition to languages other than Arabic, including the long-silenced ones spoken by the Amazigh and the Tebu, two minority groups. According to a study by the National Democratic Institute published last November, a majority of Libyans supported reserving seats for women and ethnic minorities in the constitutional assembly (and some seats were, in fact, set aside for those groups).

Other reports last year by the National Democratic Institute [a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy] and the University of Benghazi indicated that an overwhelming majority of Libyans believed Shariah, the legal code of Islam based on the Quran, should be enshrined in the new Constitution as a source of legislation (though not the only one). And while many Libyans, particularly in the east, support some degree of decentralization, they favor a centralized state over full-on federalism or any far-reaching devolution of power to the provinces.

“Libya faces fiendishly difficult problems, but there is at least one tangible issue that could be fixed fairly easily,” they contend. “Reforming current electoral rules would close the gap between the people and their leaders, and make good on an enviable asset that is rare in such fragile countries: a popular consensus on major issues that transcends cleavages over smaller ones.”


Dirk Vandewalle is an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College. Nicholas Jahr is a freelance researcher and reporter.

Libya’s Faustian bargains: appeasement is roadblock to stability and progress

libyagncLibya today confirmed the appointment of a new premier after a chaotic vote highlighting tensions between Islamists and liberals in a country sapped by violence nearly three years after the overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi, Agence France Presse reports:

The General National Congress, the interim parliament, ratified Ahmed Maitig, an Islamist-backed businessman, as prime minister in a decision signed by its speaker. However, it is still unclear if the decision by Nuri Abu Sahmein — whose own position is disputed — will end a legal and political row over Miitig’s election, which has been rejected by several lawmakers and Abu Sahmein’s own deputy.

Libya’s transitional Parliament appeared to have finally selected Maitiq as prime minister on Sunday during a chaotic legislative session, but Reuters reports that he was dismissed as soon as he was installed.

The proximal cause of Libya’s current problems in the security sector, the economy, and the transition to constitutional governance is the Libyan authorities’ policy of appeasement of their opponents, says a new Atlantic Council report:

Some analysts have absolved the post-Qaddafi authorities—the National Transitional Council (NTC), General National Congress (GNC),government, cabinet, and ministries—of both their agency and responsibility for the current problems by blaming Qaddafi-era policies, Libya’s primordial social and regional structures, and the absence of institutions (such as a national army or civil society) for most challenges currently facing the country. These factors are, indeed, key components of the troubles and constitute the root causes of the current situation. However, these preexisting factors have been exacerbated and mutated by the practice of appeasement.

Libya’s Faustian Bargains: Breaking the Appeasement Cycle examines the threats to Libya’s stability, provides a detailed mapping of the militia landscape, and details policy options for the Libyan government and its international partners.

The report, authored by Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Karim Mezran, Cambridge University researcher Jason Pack, and’s Mohamed Eljarh, identifies the strategic weakness of post-Qaddafi governments that have appeased political actors and militias for short-term support and stability.

The authors lays blame squarely on post-Qaddafi authorities for failing to urgently tackle the country’s dire economic, political, and security challenges, yet acknowledge the unique tribal and regional structures that complicate such  efforts.

The report also outlines policy recommendations for a new Libyan government (once it is installed), transitional bodies, and the country’s Western and regional allies.

Assessing Libya’s transition

LibyaMEIThree years after the start of the uprisings that led to the ousting of leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libyan efforts to build a stable, cohesive, democratic state have faced repeated setbacks.

At this challenging moment in the country’s transition, The Middle East Institute is pleased to host experts David Mack (The Middle East Institute), Karim Mezran (Atlantic Council) and Fred Wehrey (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) for a discussion about Libya. They’ll be addressing the political and security conditions, steps needed to address the political chaos and divisions afflicting the country, and what more the international community can do to support Libya’s troubled reform process.


Amb. David Mack, Adjunct Scholar, The Middle East Institute

Karim Mezran, Resident Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East 

Frederic Wehrey, Senior Associate, Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Charles Dunne (Moderator) Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, Freedom House, Adjunct Scholar, The Middle East Institute 

When: Wednesday, March 26, 12pm-1:30pm 

Where: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 1779 Massachusetts Ave NW,  Washington, DC 20036  


Libya After Qaddafi: balancing optimism with security concerns

libya-free_1835951cAs Libya prepares to draft its new constitution, a new public opinion survey shows that a majority of Libyans balance their optimism about the country’s future with immediate concerns over their personal safety, the National Democratic Institute reports.

A majority of Libyans believe that the country’s situation in three years will be better than before the 2011 uprising and conflict, but in recent months respondents have grown more critical of governing institutions and political leaders. The survey also explores citizens’ opinions on the constitution-drafting process, the General National Congress (GNC) and regional autonomy.

Most Libyans view the GNC, leaders and political parties with increasing negativity, and they are dissatisfied with the quality of public services. Citizens are also placing a greater emphasis on the need to disarm militias as a step toward improving the security situation. Despite these frustrations, Libyans remain optimistic about the country’s future and continue to believe that democracy constitutes the best form of government. The findings also indicate widespread disapproval of regional and tribal leaders’ efforts to pursue regional autonomy.

Some key findings from the poll:

  • Libyans continue to be deeply concerned about the country’s security and stability. The vast majority continue to view disarmament of militias, political stability and personal security as the most important issues.
  • A majority of Libyans do not support claims to regional autonomy. They largely reject the declarations of regional autonomy made by the Cyrenaican Political Bureau in Libya’s East and by tribal leaders in the South. Even within these two regions, majorities disapprove of the declarations. A majority of Libyans also view the seizure of oil production facilities by armed groups as unjustified.
  • One-third of Libyans feel unsafe when traveling to work, school, the mosque and the market. Similarly, only 49 percent feel “very safe” in their own homes and 61 percent feel unsafe when traveling by bus or taxi.
  • Popular support for democracy remains high, with 80 percent saying they believe it is the best form of government. Ninety-one percent of Libyans characterize democracy as involving protection of rights and freedoms or elections. These attitudes are largely unchanged from findings in earlier surveys.
  • Political institutions such as GNC, political parties and political leaders evoke increasingly negative views. Forty-seven percent of Libyans now believe that parties are not necessary for democracy, compared to only 14 percent who held this opinion in May 2013. Political leaders across the board have seen declining favorability ratings, and satisfaction with the GNC has fallen. Sixty-eight percent now describe the GNC’s performance as poor; a 32-point decrease in the congress’ perceived performance rating since May 2013.
  • Among international organizations, the United Nations (UN) is viewed the most favorably by Libyans. Sixty-four percent have a positive view of the UN and 83 percent believe their country should cooperate with the UN to ensure political stability and security.


    libyagncThe 2011 overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi by internationally backed rebel groups has left Libya’s new leaders with a number of post-conflict challenges, including establishing security, building political and administrative institutions, and restarting the economy, says RAND researchers Christopher S. Chivvis, Jeffrey Martini. Their new report assesses these challenges, the impact of the limited international role in efforts to overcome them, and possible future roles for the international community. 

    Lack of Security

    Libya’s most serious problem since 2011 has been the lack of security. Insecurity has had negative repercussions across the spectrum. It has undermined efforts to build functioning political and administrative institutions, further constricted an already minimal international footprint, and facilitated the expansion of criminal and jihadist groups within Libya and the wider region.

    Stalled Statebuilding

    The lack of security has greatly undermined an already difficult statebuilding process in Libya, where the post-Qaddafi state was very weak politically and administratively. To begin with, Libya’s constitutional process has not kept pace with the schedule originally set out during the war. That schedule aimed to provide Libya with a constitution within a year of liberation. More than two years after Qaddafi’s death, however, the constitutional drafting committee has yet to begin its work.

    Meanwhile, groups in the eastern province of Cyrenaica have seized control of oil facilities there and threatened to create an autonomous state-within-a-state. Islamist and revolutionary groups have forced the passage of a political isolation law that excludes many Libyans from participation in government, thus exacerbating existing rifts in society and reducing the available pool of talent for government positions. The General National Congress, which was elected in July 2012, has been deeply divided over many issues.

    In general, Libyan public administration is in very poor shape and capacity building is sorely needed to strengthen the state. Public confidence in the democratic political process has declined as frustration has mounted. In the absence of a national state, regional and tribal substate actors have strengthened and will likely seek to hold onto their entrenched power.

    Economic Challenges

    Oil production restarted quickly in the aftermath of the war and has allowed Libya to avoid some of the most serious choices that post-conflict societies face because it could fund reconstruction and pay salaries to many groups, including militias. With the armed takeover of many of Libya’s oil facilities in the summer of 2013, however, the stability of Libya’s economy—including the ability of the government to continue to pay salaries indefinitely—was drawn into question.

    Upping International Role

    Despite a significant investment of military and political capital in helping the Libyan rebels overthrow Qaddafi, international actors have done very little to support Libya’s post-conflict recovery to date. ….International actors have recently started increasing their efforts in Libya somewhat. More should have been done and still needs to be done, however. The United States and its allies have both moral and strategic interests in ensuring that Libya does not collapse back into civil war or become a safe haven for al Qaeda or other jihadist groups within striking distance of Europe.

    In contrast, if Libya sees gradual political stabilization under representative government and constitutional rule, the United States and its allies would benefit from Libya’s energy and other resources. The region as a whole would also be much stronger.

    Improvements will take time, but despite its current challenges, Libya still has many advantages when compared with other post-conflict societies. Notably, it can foot much of the bill for its post-conflict needs—even if it currently lacks the administrative capacity to manage complex payments to foreign entities.

    The Way Forward

    There are four areas that international actors should focus on while looking ahead:

    Support a National Reconciliation Process

    The most serious problem in Libya today is continued insecurity, which impedes political and other advances and could wipe them out altogether. Absent an international peacekeeping force, which should be considered but would be difficult under current circumstances, the best way to improve security is to engage Libyans in a national reconciliation dialogue. Such a process could facilitate disarmament, complement constitution making, and increase international actors’ access to information about the capabilities and intentions of key Libyan groups.….

    Strengthen Libya’s National Security Forces

    Insecurity in Libya is partially attributable to a lack of reliable national security forces. International actors are well placed to help remedy this lacuna, and Libya is prepared to foot the bill. Recent U.S. and European efforts to train a so-called “general-purpose force” of approximately 15,000 over the next several years will help. The effort should proceed in parallel with reconciliation and strike a balanced representation of Libyan society, lest individual groups perceive the training as being directed against them and revolt. …

    Help Libya Strengthen Border Security

    Border security remains a major challenge. The porousness of Libya’s borders and their susceptibility to smuggling and the circulation of criminals and jihadists will continue to undermine Libyan and broader regional security. Improvements will take time and require building institutional capacity within the Libyan state as well as investments in monitoring capabilities, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms. …

    Help Libya Build Its Public Administration

    The personalistic nature of the Qaddafi regime left Libya with a severe lack of public administrative and bureaucratic structures. International actors are well positioned to help Libya improve its public administration, especially if the security situation improves. The EU and its member states are in a particularly good position for this task, due to their proximity to Libya…..


Personnel Change or Personal Change? Rethinking Libya’s Political Isolation Law

libyastanfordNearly three years after the fall of the Qaddafi regime, Libya’s revolution has stalled. Militias continue to run rampant as the government struggles to perform basic functions. Theoretically to protect the revolution, Libya in 2013 passed its Political Isolation Law (PIL), effectively banning anyone involved in Qaddafi’s regime from the new government. The law has raised serious questions: Does it contribute to effective governance and reconciliation? Does it respect human rights and further transitional justice? Will it undermine Libya’s prospects for a successful democratic transition?

In a new Brookings Doha Center-Stanford “Project on Arab Transitions” Paper titled “Personnel Change or Personal Change? Rethinking Libya’s Political Isolation Law,” Roman David and Houda Mzioudet examine the controversy over Libya’s PIL and the law’s likely effects. Drawing on interviews with key Libyan actors, the authors find that the PIL has been manipulated for political purposes and that its application is actually weakening, not protecting, Libya. They caution that the PIL threatens to deprive Libya of competent leaders, undermine badly needed reconciliation, and perpetuate human rights violations.

David and Mzioudet go on to compare the PIL to the personnel reform approaches of Eastern European states and South Africa. Ultimately, they argue that Libyans would be better served if the PIL were replaced with a law based on inclusion rather than exclusion and on reconciliation rather than revenge. They maintain that Libya’s democratic transition would benefit from an approach that gives exonerated former regime personnel a conditional second chance instead of blindly excluding potentially valuable contributors.

The paper was produced as part of the Brookings Doha Center -Stanford University Project on Arab Transitions. The project aims to generate comprehensive analysis of the conditions affecting democratization and good governance during the period of Arab transition.

You can view the paper online here or download the full paper (PDF) in English here or Arabic here.

Roman David is a professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Policy, Lingnan University, Hong Kong. For the past fifteen years David has worked in several areas of transitional justice, including lustration, victim reparation, truth commissions, international tribunals, and apologies in a number of countries. He is the author of Lustration and Transitional Justice (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

Houda Mzioudet is a Tunisian journalist currently working in Libya. She covered the first democratic elections in Tunisia, the liberation of Tripoli in August 2011, the first democratic elections in Libya, and other events in both Tunisia and Libya.